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James R. Stout

Quite a Summer

           The summer before I turned 14-years-old was quite a summer. I spent the summer doing most of the things that kids did in the summer during those days. I listened to the latest hit records, I hung out with friends, went swimming at the local public pool, listened to my hometown Houston Astros games on the radio, watched the news with my parents and wondered what on Earth was happening to our country, and for one week I went to a summer camp from our church. The latest hit records included “Get Back” by The Beatles, “In The Year 2525” by Zager and Evans, “Get Together” by The Youngbloods, “Sugar On Sunday” by The Clique (a great group of guys that I came to know many years later and greatly admire), “Green River” by CCR, and probably one of my all-time favorite records, “Soul Deep” by The Box Tops. It was a great summer for music.

            The Astros had their best season that year up until then finishing .500 for the first time with an 81-81 win/loss record. It was the year that we had our first 20 game winning pitcher with Larry Dierker, we thrilled to “The Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and we didn’t realize that a guy named Jim Bouton who had just joined the team was writing a book about the inside workings of the team that would become a bestseller the next year. A big part of that summer was listening to the west coast games late at night on my transistor radio.

            As for watching the news, there was a four-week period of time from July 20, 1969 through about August 20, 1969 that had everybody talking. It started with Neal Armstrong’s first step on the moon. I remember going outside that night and looking up at the moon and marveling at the fact that there were two human beings up there on that celestial body. To say that it thrilled our nation is a gross understatement. As John Denver would later say many times, it was “far out”. The astronauts had barely been back home when we heard about some grisly murders in California that included an 8-month pregnant actress by the name of Sharon Tate. It would be a story that unfolded over the next several months and while we didn’t know the name Charles Manson yet, we would. Then, on August 15th we watched on the 10 o’clock news the goings on in a place called Woodstock. My parents were quite simply appalled. I didn’t know what to think at the time. I recently happened on the movie of the three-day event as it was showing on TV and to be honest, I now understand why my parents were appalled. At the time, I just liked the music. Well, most of it anyway. I never much cared for Joan Baez, Country Joe, or Janis Joplin, but I always liked Crosby, Stills, and Nash (musically speaking – I loathe their politics), The Who, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and CCR. But the “festival” was more about a bunch of fairly young people doing drugs, going naked, having sex, and thumbing their nose at authority of any kind. You couldn’t have paid me enough money to be among that crowd. I’m always amazed at how many people claim to have been there and think that its such an achievement. As a famous American general said, “Nuts”.

            I mentioned earlier about spending a week at summer camp. It was a place known as Peach Creek Baptist Encampment. Located near a small East Texas town called Porter, about 40 miles northeast of Houston, Texas, it was a large facility with several “dorms”, a large cafeteria, and a big semi-outdoor tabernacle.  None of it was air conditioned. Did I say it was in July in East Texas? Unless you have been in East Texas in July you probably don’t know what the weather is like there that time of year. It is hot and impossibly humid. Let’s recap. No A/C, very hot, and impossibly humid. Our youth group caravanned to the facility in cars. I’m guessing there were probably about 75 kids from our church there that week. There were probably about 800 kids all together from different churches. It was my first time being away from home like that. I would love to tell you that it was a great experience. But I won’t lie to you. It wasn’t. Community bathrooms, powered eggs for breakfast, sweat, no money for concession items due to my parents thought it wasn’t needed, being among the younger aged kids at a camp with mostly high schoolers, and the incessant pranks in the boy’s dorm rooms made for a pretty miserable week. So much so that I wouldn’t go to another camp for 4 years and only then because my girlfriend was going.

            There were a couple of good things though. The last night there I did experience a drawing nearer of God into my life. I also made a couple of new friends. It was a precursor for more profound moments involving such experiences a few years later. I’ll never forget the last day at camp. It was the usual morning Bible study, a break, a final worship service, and then we all packed our gear and got our car assignments. It turned out I would be riding in the youth minister’s car along with 4 other kids and the youth minister. I will never forget sitting in the back seat of that car with the windows down waiting for the youth minister so that we could leave. There were three of us packed into the back seat. Sweat was literally pouring off of us. I was sitting next to a girl named Patty and I kind of had a crush on her. The only thing that saved me from complete embarrassment regarding my prodigious sweating was the fact that she too resembled a drowned rat! Finally, the youth minister got in the car and that was when we learned that he didn’t have an AC in his car. The only thing that saved us was once that we were moving the air coming in the open windows dried the sweat enough to make it bearable.

            We got back to the church and my father was there to pick me up. When I got home, I think my mother thought I must be going crazy because the first thing that I did was take a shower. She usually had to fight me to get me to take a shower. But I had a week’s worth of sweat and grime to get rid of given I was too embarrassed to take a shower at camp. I only took one shower that week and some kid stole my towel leaving me to have to air dry and be made fun of the whole time. I must have been one ripe puppy by that Friday!

            Following that week at camp were the aforementioned events that the whole nation was watching unfold on TV. Before long, September rolled around, and it was time for school to start. 8th grade was going to be the end of junior high school and I was more than a little excited to finish junior high. As I look back on that summer, I have mixed emotions. Some of it was great. A lot of it was good and some of it was not too good. But nothing horrible happened in life. I turned 14 the first week of 8th grade and life was marching forward. As I get older and older, I realize that, for the most part, I’m glad to have experienced many things in my life, but I wouldn’t want to have to go back and do it all again. Moving forward is about the most natural thing that we do. Mainly because we can’t move backward. And that’s a good thing. Eventually we will all get to a point where life has been exhausted in the form that we know it here and now. The good news is that for those of us who accept Jesus as our savior we keep moving forward forever. That is indeed good news. I pray that all who read this have accepted Jesus as their savior. I’d like to see you in Heaven when we shed these earthly bodies and move forward.

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